This format was reviewed on the site a little while back, and I liked the sound of it, so I took a look at the offerings available from Dark Horse, and though there were a few interesting titles, this series stood out from the rest. I’ve always liked the mythos behind the Aliens series, both the films and the books, so thought I’d dive right in. With no idea of when the original books where published, or how they fit into the continuity of the movies, I opened the omnibus and dived right in. The first of the books collected in this Omnibus was Outbreak
The book opens with a very quick, very basic retelling of (what I remember to be) the second movie of the franchise, Aliens. It is told from the perspective of “Billie” who I have taken to be “newt” from that film, who is now in a mental institution. Now, for me, this is the make or break of a decent “extended universe” or franchise book, how much of the back story does the reader know, and how to bring them up to speed. A good book won’t waste time with rerunning the whole back story, but you also need to give a nod in the direction of the source material.
Outbreak’s writer Mark Verheiden does a good job of bringing everyone up to date without labouring the point. The writing over all is good, not brilliant, as the book is quite dense and, living in a world of decompressed writing, it can get a bit much at times. The story overall is very good though, and plays on the themes set up in the later movies and the books where the government and Earth based companies want to monetise the Aliens through the use of them as biological weapons.
The book runs two parallel, but ultimately connected, storylines, one is about a mission led by a survivor from the mission to Rim (the second movie in the Alien franchise) and the freed Billie. It is around here that the book gets a little messy, now bear in mind this may be down to the fragmented way in which I read the book, or it could well be an underlying messiness in the scripting. A few scenes on-board the flight get confusing with a couple of the characters, though you can work out what is going on, it is a case of not knowing who exactly is carrying out these shenanigans.
The second storyline deals with Earth based events, a domestic infestation, and a cult that worships these aliens as the new coming of Christ?, as a saviour. This storyline bring up some interesting issues with the creatures, not only their goals, but how they go about achieving them. We learn a lot about the motivation of the aliens, what it is that they hope to achieve through these colonies. We learn that they are more than just mindless creatures, and are cunning, intelligent beings, which makes the plans of the Corporation that much more chilling.
The art was decent, pretty realistic, quite graphic in places, it wasn’t anything special, but did enough. Though they did try to capture the tone of the movies, it didn’t quite come through.
The second book is Nightmare Asylum With the same writer but this time the art is provided by Dan Beauvias and, barring one part where it is really rushed, the art is very well done. When it needs to, it captures the dark tone of the book, but the rest of the time it provides a cleaner, clinical feel to the story, therefore really amplifying the danger and darkness of the aliens.
The story continues from the end of the first book, with Wilks and Billie on a cargo ship to some unknown destination. We continue to follow the adventures and misfortunes of the pair while we learn more about the military’s plan for the aliens.
The state of planet Earth is explored some more, with live (TV) feeds being sent out by some of the survivors. We follow the fate of one pair, an Uncle and niece who are trying their best to remain alive on Earth. You can see what the writer was trying to do with this, adding a more “human” face to the book, adding in some characters you can sympathise with, almost empathise with, but they have been given such little screen time that they just become an annoyance.
The main story was very interesting though. It was based around a military commander’s attempt to “civilize” and train these aliens and make them into a more loyal army. Of all the military people in this universe, he is the only one that seems to have an understanding of the true nature of these creatures, of their intelligence and capabilities.
I’m not going to spoil the story, as I prefer to review the book rather than the plot, so while better than the first, both in terms of art and pacing, the book still isn’t quite hitting the notes of the first couple of movies. Though with four volumes of the Aliens omnibus out the stories must have caught the imagination of a fair few readers out there, and hopefully the quality keeps on improving.
Female War is the reason there are three more volumes. This book has come on in leaps and bounds with regard to the first two. It helps that the art is by Sam Keith, which really adds to the flow and dynamism of the book. At no point is it dark and broody as you would imagine an Aliens book, but the flow and structure of the book is so much better. The story flows so well, the art actually accentuates the story rather than just being there, as it was in the two previous books.
The other thing that came to light while reading this book, is that my assessment of the recap in the first book might have been off, it might have recapped the first Alien film and not the second, as that seems to be the one recapped here!
At one point it was rather confusing as I wasn’t sure if it was a recap or actually part of the new story, but it all worked itself out in the end. And boy what a story it was, very high octane all energy fun, well as much fun as it can be reading a book about an alien species decimating earth and those in charge of saving us, protecting us being corrupt and essentially in league with those that want to see our end. This time there was essentially only the one story, though it did dovetail the two previous stories, the people on earth and the extermination of the aliens. The writing has also really improved, you can tell that the writer now has a better understanding of the medium, as he has come from a TV / Screenplay background.
Finally we have a couple of small stories to cap off the book. First, is a diary account by a biologist that worked for the company and the Aliens project. He talks about the nature of the beast, its cultures and evolution, why they do what they do, and then, after that, came another short story. Though short in numbers of pages it was immense in scope, it really did tell a hell of a tale. I can’t really say anything about it, as it will spoil the story, but it covers a lot of themes that have come up during the three books in the omnibus: the nature of man, the nature of these aliens and the consequences of the interaction between the two. This last story has convinced me to pick up the second trade, which I would not have done otherwise. The book is ok, the art passable for the most part, but until this last little tale, it really didn’t engage me enough to carry on the series. Even the impressive third book, Female War, was not enough to bring me back to this universe; but this has.